Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Paruppu Urundai (Lentil Balls) Kuzhambu

When I try to explain what "kuzhambu" is to a non-South Indian, I typically say that it is like sambar without the dal.  This description really doesn’t do justice to the spicy, tangy flavors of kuzhambu though.  You wouldn't think that with just tamarind and a few spices you can create such a wonderful dish.

It is easier and faster to make than sambar and lasts a lot longer because you can only eat a little bit and because we don't use cooked dal, doesn't get spoiled easily.  Some people add a little jaggery, but I don't.  The jaggery helps tone down the spice level a bit, but I am not a big fan of mixing sweet and spicy tastes together.

This particular type of kuzhambu is a little more time-consuming to make than the traditional vathal kuzhambu, but is well worth the effort.  Because it is time consuming, I typically make twice as many urundais (lentil balls) as I need - and freeze the extras for later.

I made this with avial and vazhakkai (plantain) curry for lunch recently.  It came out so well that I decided to share it with a friend of ours, who loves South Indian food.  The next day, my husband started rummaging in the fridge for this and was disappointed when he couldn't find any.  Since I had made extra paruppu urundais (lentil balls), I ended up making this again for him.

Here is what you need:

For the paruppu urundais (lentil balls):

(makes about 30)

  • 1 cup toor dal
  • 4 – 6 red chilies
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. hing
  • 1 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. mustard seeds
  • few curry leaves

For the kuzhambu:

  •  ¼ cup of tamarind (see note)
  • 3 tsp sesame oil (see note)
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp split channa dal
  • ½ tsp methi (fenugreek) seeds
  • ¼ tsp hing (asafetida)
  • 2 dried red chilies
  • few curry leaves
  • 2 tsp sambar powder
  • salt to taste

Note 1:  I use tamarind and not store bought tamarind paste because it tastes much better when you extract the pulp yourself.  You can use tamarind paste if you are in a rush or if you don't have tamarind handy.  Substitute 2 tsp. tamarind paste for the tamarind.

Note 2:  Sesame oil gives this dish a unique flavor.  You can use any vegetable oil that you have on hand, if you don't have sesame oil.

Here is how I made it:

For the paruppu urundai:

  1. Drain the water from the toor dal.  Grind it to a coarse paste with red chilies, hing, and salt, adding very little water.
  2. Heat oil in a pan.  Add mustard seeds.
  3. When the mustard seeds sputter, add the curry leaves.
  4. Now add the ground paste and mix well. Let this mixture cook on medium-low heat for a few minutes.  It should be a thick paste so that you can shape it into balls. Turn off the heat.
  5. When it is cool to the touch, make small balls – slightly smaller than donut holes.
  6. Place these on idli plates or a steamer, and steam for about 8 – 10 minutes.
  7. Save half of these for use later (cool them completely and freeze them either in a Ziploc bag or an airtight container).

For the kuzhambu:

  1. Soak the tamarind in a cup of so of water for ½ hour.  Squeeze out the pulp from the tamarind and save the extracted liquid.  You can discard the seeds and fiber left behind.
  2. Heat oil.  Add mustard seeds, channa dal, methi seeds, hing, and red chilies.
  3. Once the mustard seeds sputter, add the curry leaves (be careful because the hot oil can splash).  Fry for a few seconds.
  4. Add the sambar powder and mix everything together.
  5. Add the extracted tamarind juice and salt. Add a little more water if it is too thick.
  6. Let this mixture come to a boil and then simmer on medium to low heat till the raw flavor of tamarind is gone (about 10 minutes).
  7. Gently drop the urundais (balls) into the kuzhambu and let it simmer for five more minutes.
  8. Remove from the stove.

Serve with rice and vegetable of your choice.

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